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BioBlitz pits scientists against the clock

Three previous events have documented 400 new species to Whistler

Most people can differentiate between a few types of trees or bushes, identify a few types of edible wild mushrooms, know the names of a few birds and tell the difference between a frog and a toad (hint: both are frogs, but toads have dry, warty skin).

For the scientists converging on Whistler this weekend for the fourth annual BioBlitz, hosted by the Whistler Naturalists to support the ongoing biodiversity inventory, that's nothing.

Upwards of 60 scientists will be tromping through Whistler over 24 hours in search of different plants, trees, mushrooms, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, rodents and mammals of all descriptions. It's a contest first and foremost, a chance for scientists working in groups to do field research on the run and show off their depth of knowledge by finding rare or undocumented species in the region.

This year BioBlitz gets underway in tents at Alpha Lake Park at noon on July 24. It wraps up at noon the following day. Some groups will work all night, finding and cataloging nocturnal species they come across.

In the first three years the participating scientists have identified over 500 species, including 400 species that had not been documented before in Whistler. Those are now part of the official Whistler Biodiversity Project inventory being assembled by Bob Brett.

The inventory is an ambitious overview of all the flora and fauna in the Whistler area. It has several uses, ranging from identifying and conserving rare species to identifying any invasive species that could upset the natural balance.

There are a few new additions this year, including a blitz at the Whistler Golf Course on Sunday morning, the participation of Cascade Tracking (a mammal tracking team from Washington state), a forest canopy research team from Washington that will operate out at TreeTrek, a large contingent of searchers from the Native Plant Society of B.C., an adult scavenger hunt and a stand-up paddleboarder researching aquatic life on Alpha Lake.

There is also a wide range of activities for the public this year:

• From noon to 5 p.m. various scientists will put on family-friendly presentations at Alpha Lake Park on a wide variety of topics.

• The Wild Things Scavenger Hunt for kids takes place from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

• From 7:30 p.m. until late there will be a series of night presentations by scientists leading up to when night creatures emerge after 8:30 p.m. If it rains the presentation will move to Legends.

• The Whistler Golf Course Blitz is open to the public (RSVP to

• Swamp Monsters will give kids a chance to meet live critters from Whistler's waterways between 10 and 11:30 a.m.

• The Final Tally at noon on Sunday will present the final numbers for this year, as well as any rare or interesting species that scientists may have turned up in their searches. Families will have an opportunity to look at all of the gathered species and learn more about them.

BioBlitz is hosted by the Whistler Naturalists with funding from the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the support of and sponsorship of the Whistler Blackcomb EFund, whistler Golf Course, ZipTrek, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, the Whistler Biodiversity Project, Subway, Creekbreak, Creekside Market, Dusty's, Blackcomb Sign Shop and the Legends Whistler hotel.

While the BioBlitz tradition in Whistler only goes back four years, the concept has been around since 1996 when an event was hosted in Washington state. Since then other groups have embraced the idea. Now, bioblitzes are held throughout the U.S. to raise awareness of biodiversity as well to catalogue species in a given area.